As part of our fourth exhibition "Issue #04 Intersection" Andreas Rau joins TGAM for a casual conversation about his practice and generative art.
Andreas Rau is a generative artist with a background in interaction design and creative coding.
Andreas explores the interplay between humans and their physical and digital environments in his artistic work. While the blockchain and NFTs have created an entirely new context for his purely digital art, many of Andreas’ works have a physical component and come to life through pen plotter or CNC machine. This connection to the physical is also expressed in his generative long-form series on fx(hash) including Loom and recently Toccata.
Andreas’ work ranges from interactive installations over kinetic sculptures to computer-generated drawings and often incorporates playful interactions, organic movement patterns, rich textures, slowness, unexpected breaks and overlapping rhythms. It shows clear influences of music and nature and is inspired by the to-be rather than the being, the becoming rather than the actual, the evolving rather than the finished.
The Generative Art Museum: Hello Andreas, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
Andreas Rau: Hi, I'm Andreas, a generative artist. What fewer people know about me is that I'm also a jazz pianist. Actually, that is where my creative journey started: in music. I then slowly evolved into the more visual side as well, and became involved with generative art. I've always been rather widespread in my interests. As a little child, I started to play the piano and used music as a means for expressing myself. When I think back of those days, I always see myself just sitting at the piano and looking outside the window while playing. I was a terrible student in the sense that I could never read notes. I couldn't read sheet music, or I was too lazy to do so. I was always playing by ear, listening to stuff my mum would play and trying to replicate that.
This is something that shapes me until this very day: I'm a good listener. I’m good at listening, and at observing. And I hope, this becomes apparent in my artwork: I focus a lot on the details, the textures and all the little feelings that I try to put into my pieces. Hopefully, you can see it in the works I've released on fx(hash).
I have several collections there, long form generative art collections, for example Loom, that I released about a year ago. It is a piece about texture and color. To me, it is really important to incorporate texture into my generative artwork. But there’s more to my work than this technique, or what you can perceive visually. To me, on a higher level, my work is about the dialogue — the intersection — between human and machine. It's this very dialogue that I'm taken up by all the time. I'm educated as an interaction designer, so this has been my subject of research for quite some years now: how humans and machines interact.
TGAM: Where did it all begin for you? When did you find generative art and what got you into creating with this medium?
AR: I started coding rather early, I was 12 or 13 years old when I started doing some web based stuff. Then, later on, while I was studying interaction design, I discovered code as a tool for visual expression. I was creating generative graphics in Processing back then, but wasn't aware of generative art as a discipline within the visual arts yet.
I wouldn't have called what I made back then art, it was mere explorations for designs I made. Still, I found it really interesting to play around with these things. Being in Berlin back then, I met a couple generative artists through the creative code meetup over there around 2014. This is how my journey started to shape more towards generative art.
What first led you to the world of NFTs and how did it feel coming from your traditional background into this new world of art on the internet?
Well, it just became so apparent in the entire space on Twitter and in other channels. People were starting to talk more and more about NFTs in early 2021, and I was getting interested in all the talk. NFTs were making big headlines in the media for obvious reasons, and I was trying to figure out what all this was about and started to talk to a couple of friends that had already dipped their toes into it.
Yet again, the creative coding meetup in Berlin was an important venue. I think it was in March 2021 when we were talking about NFTs and especially Hic Et Nunc that had just come out. After this meetup, I decided to really do a deep dive and research the topic in a bit more depth. I spent a week or two just reading all I could find about NFTs and about Blockchain and all the mechanisms behind it, also because I was a bit concerned about the energy consumption that Ethereum or any proof of work based blockchain had at the time.
This is why I decided to go over to Tezos and mint my first NFT on Hic Et Nunc. This decision was also shaped by the wonderful community that I found there. Hic Et Nunc gave me an artist-run, underground vibe that I really resonated with. I wanted to be part of it and just try it out and see what comes out of it. Still, I find it really exciting to look back to these “early” days in April, May 2021 when hic et nunc was starting to thrive as an artist-run platform and as a community. My first piece: "This one is for you" was minted for the #objkt4objkt event on Hic Et Nunc, a community event where everyone was minting very low price artworks and artists were collecting from each other.
TGAM: What inspires you to create? Is there anything in particular, or are there any artists you are particularly fond of?
AR: The one recurring topic in my work that always inspires me is humans and their behaviour within the spaces they inhabit. On the one hand side, this is a very physical matter. How do we move in the spaces we are in, the mere physical spaces? Do we go into corners? Do we tend to stand in hallways? Do we interact with each other? Don't we interact with each other? Do we just sit on our own and sip a coffee? Do we walk away when other people come up to us? Do we talk to them when they come up? Whatever is happening, I love just sitting somewhere in a public space and watching people. As simple as it sounds, this is something that drives my inspiration and leads me to creating things.
On the other hand, there’s a whole societal level to it. How do we behave within the social settings we are in? How do we behave in the digital spaces we are in? Who's interacting with whom and how?I find these kinds of things highly interesting, and I like to incorporate these interactions between humans and their surroundings into my work.
TGAM: “This one is for you” - April 2021 was your first mint on Hic Et Nunc, Experimenting the way you did with your first mint was quite ahead of its time, what was your thought behind this piece and how was it received at the time?
AR: When I was minting this first NFT, I was thinking a lot about the NFT medium, and about the possibilities that open up through the mechanism of NFTs. I was thinking: what is unique to this new way of distributing art? The most immediate thing that struck me was that all of a sudden you knew within the code of the piece, who is the collector. So this piece, This one is for you, uses the wallet address of the collector as the hash that drives how the piece looks in the end: Which color palette is chosen and what the visual features of it will be.
So in that sense, it was very similar to what's happening now in long form collections on fx(hash) or ArtBlocks. I found it interesting to make a piece that is unique to each and every collector and to use the mechanism of NFTs as more than a mere container of a digital artwork.
I still think it's exciting to create artworks that are not only self-contained on the blockchain, but also use the possibilities of the blockchain. Taking into account things like for instance how many people have collected a piece. I've done some work on that as well.
There's this wonderful piece "Entropy” by Deafbeef, which changes its appearance based on how many times it's been transferred to other wallets. It's a fantastic piece and I love this kind of interplay with the blockchain, with the underlying technology, because that simply has not been possible before. We need to remember that it's an entirely new ecosystem: NFTs give artists new possibilities to distribute their work, but also an entirely new way of making art since there are things that are possible now that simply weren't possible before.
TGAM: Talking about experimentation; not long after followed Recursive Twins, a piece that really caught our attention. Could you describe to the listeners the concept behind this piece & how you made it possible?
AR: Yes. I like that you're bringing up this piece since it's a really interesting one and I loved creating it. It's a bit of a joke, and a highly conceptual piece at the same time. Recursive Twins is basically two separate works that are displaying each other in a recursive loop.
So there is one piece that is 1000 editions and the other one is a 1/1. The 1000 edition piece executes the code that lies within the 1/1 and shows it within its own frame. The 1/1, in turn, takes the 1000 edition piece and shows the code of this one in its frame. With that idea it's recursively loading these pieces into each other until infinity or until your browser crashes. I don't know if that actually happens. I've never let it run for so long that my browser actually crashed, but someone should test it.
There's two things going on here: First, you have is this whole thought of artificial scarcity that NFTs have brought up. Generative art is the perfect vehicle for producing infinite supply of an artwork. You could do an open edition of basically everything. But this is not necessarily what you want to do, both from a collectors perspective, obviously, but first and foremost from an artistic perspective. So you artificially set a limit to how many editions there will be minted of a piece.
Recursive Twins essentially takes this idea of artificial scarcities and leads it ad absurdum by displaying the one of one piece in the thousand edition piece. In a sense, this devalues the 1/1 because you can look at it within the thousand edition piece. To me, this a really fun way of playing with the mechanism of the blockchain, but also with this mechanism of artificial scarcity.
The technique behind it is not something that I came up with. Yazid had done a piece using that same or a similar technique at least. It's using what is possible on the blockchain and what was possible on Hic Et Nunc. In this case, it’s reading the description of another NFT on the same platform: The code that is executed in the artworks is stored in the description of the other artwork. It's retrieving that information from the blockchain, from the other piece and executing it. This is the whole principle. You can have a look at the pieces and you can read the description. The code is in there and you will see it's just a few lines. Yet, it tells this whole story about artificial scarcity and about all the possibilities within blockchain.
TGAM: Is there anything you're experimenting with at the moment, it seems you like to push the boundaries and try new things, anything in the pipeline that we can keep our eye out for?
AR: There's a couple of things coming up, but there's nothing I want to talk about too much. There's one thing that you might have gotten a gist of just a couple of weeks back when I was spending some days at the studio of a textile artist friend here in Norway and was experimenting with weaving for the first time. I brought this topic up in Loom already, and I still think that weaving and the loom are fundamental to generative art in particular, but also computing in general.
Today’s computers are descendants of the Jacquard loom and the mechanism behind it. That is why I find this relation between generative art and weaving so interesting. And therefore, I wanted to experiment with weaving myself. I think I'm going to continue this exploration in 2023, bridging the digital and the physical world in a different medium that is, although controlled by the computer, very much a physical medium prone to all the things that can happen within physicality.
There's some really interesting things I learned, specifically about how a woven artwork tapestry behaves. To sum it up in one sentence, you could say it's all about balance. You can create lots of different textures within a woven piece, but you still need to balance it out over the width of the entire piece, because otherwise it will fall apart.
This is something that I find really inspiring to work with, these kinds of physical constraints that also influence how I think algorithmically. It’s a stark contrast to how I make things that are purely digital where you don’t have these constraints. So, this is something that I'm going to explore more and we shall see where it ends up.
TGAM: “Elevating my own consciousness with the help of a machine.” We could go really deep here, but on a more personal level, how does this affect your decisions and process when thinking about a piece, how much do you leave to chance, and how much is pre orchestrated? What role does the machine play in your creation process?
AR: It's always a dialogue, a dialogue between myself and the machine. Elevation started being inspired by architecture. Again, I'm very much aware of our surroundings and how our environments, both the built environment and the unbuilt environment, influence how we think and who we are. In Elevation, I wanted to reference the built environment as one of the human made things that has a big impact on how we live our lives and how we end up being human in this world. From this general topic, I came to the concrete thoughts and visual expression of Elevation through a lot of experimentation.
It started with a simple grid, something I've done before, in Loom, for example. I took this very simple starting point and started elaborating on it, playing on it, basically improvising on it. I like to compare this process to a jam session. Again, as a jazz musician, this is something that's very close to me and to who I am. It's just very interesting to sit there with a machine, do things and get a response that you might or might not expect and then do something with that response again.
This process shapes my work in a lot of different ways. In Elevation, for example, the base algorithm for a lot of the texture came from what initially was a bug. I decided to keep this bug and actually to push it a bit further and to elaborate even more on this bug and make it into a feature, into something that became the very core of this piece. I did a lot of experimentation for getting the compositions right and especially for getting the series to look right in print.
Elevation was thought of as a work for print from the very beginning. I really wanted to make a long form series that was intended for print, and Elevation is this series. I always love when collectors order an Elevation print, since then I can go to my print shop and see it come to life in this very physical form and bring the warmth of the pieces on the paper that I chose. In that sense, it's very much this dialogue between me and the machine that has shaped what Elevation has become.
TGAM: Your work has such warmth and almost a human touch to it, how do you achieve this, is there anything in particular that you could accredit to this organic and natural feel you manage to inject into your works.
AR: There's two things to it. One thing is observation, I mean, artistic expression comes down to 90% observing, trying to see something other people don’t, but also simply observing the world around you, looking curiously at the world, at nature and at humble materials around us. I'm sitting at a wooden table right now, and there's so many exciting textures going on just within this very simple object.
Secondly, a lot of my works are physical, or have a physical component at least. For example, there are a couple of pieces that used to be available as pen plots as well. This is one of the more obvious choices, I'd say. And then, there's a series I started earlier this year which has not been published as NFT yet. It's a highly physical series that talks about our relationship to nature. It’s still based on algorithmic work, and has so far resulted in three wooden images that are carved with a CNC mill, the physicality of which I enjoy a lot.
I really like to pair precise industrial machinery that is controlled by the computer with generative methods such as randomness or noise to create artwork that has a warm and human touch to it. You can look up the particular series I mentioned on my website at andreasrau.eu/longing .
I like closely observing these kinds of things, and I really like diving into what makes an object feel warm or what gives it its soul. This is something I like to observe and be inspired by. But then there's also this whole thing of physicality.
TGAM: Your recent collaboration “Toccata” with Marcelo Soria Rodriguez, (who was actually exhibited on our debut exhibit almost a year ago now), is really something special. How did the collab come about, and how did the process play out when combining your styles, and of course the audio element of the piece?
AR: First and foremost its been an immense pleasure to be working together with Marcelo, who's a great human being and a wonderful artist that I admire and have admired for a long time. It all came about during the release of fx(hash) 1.0. The fx(hash) team actually reached out to both of us and asked if we wanted to be part of a planned series of collaborations and then we got into a conversation. We talked a lot about musicality, because that is something that I felt connected us from the very beginning.
So, musicality was what initially connected Marcelo and me. One thing that always struck me with the pieces that Marcelo makes is their immense musicality. Take Contrapuntos as an example. It's just such a musical piece to me. I can almost hear it when I see the outputs of the series. This is where our conversation started, around March this year. We also talked about this whole uncertainty that was in the air at that point of time since the Ukraine war had just broken out in February.
The entire world around us seemed to have to realign to a new normal, a new truth that all of a sudden had come over us. We felt that kind of uncertainty, there seemed to be a decay of values, of ideas of society, of many things we've taken for granted for so many years. We felt a need to reflect that in this very piece, and we felt a need to do it in a musical way.
So therefore, we started collaborating on this very musical piece. I mean, the name alone says it: Toccata. It is directly taken from music and it's directly referencing back to music. Actually, the name comes from a specific piece that we've been talking about early on in the process.
The Toccata in D minor by Sergei Prokofiev that we were both listening to in this process. It's a fascinating piece, a very atmospheric piece, really strong and really rhythmic. So this was where our conversation about the music part of Toccata started. Of course, we wanted to make something that was visual as well, because both of us are visual artists, after all.
So we ended up making an audiovisual piece, but tried to make it in a way that is not only a visualization of the music or not only a sonification of the visuals. We wanted to have the two layers of visuals and sound play independently at the same time, yet being connected together in a loose way.
TGAM: It seems pretty obvious that you grant the physicality of art a very distinctive place in everything you do. A great example of this is the protagonist role you give to your studio, in your own words “inspired by the light of the North and the vast nature of Scandinavia”. In a world where everything is turning virtual, how important is the physical aspect of your work and having a studio to meet that purpose?
AR: It's an important part of what I do. The whole relation to the physical spaces around us. That's what I'm talking about all the time. So it clearly has a big influence on myself as well. Essentially, it's a very human thing. We are physical beings, after all, rooted in this physical world. We start to explore the world in a very physical manner as a child. We just touch everything that is around us. Texture and the feeling of things is kind of the first very immediate thing of how we experience the world.
Then we tend to forget it later on, as we tend to be educated to forget it. “You're not supposed to touch this. You're not supposed to do this.” I think it's interesting how we as a society just collectively try to forget about textures and try to forget about how beautiful it feels to just be in a space and just feel the materials around you. You notice it most strongly, when you think of nature. Try to truly feel the air around you, and the wind. I think, doing this regularly affects your consciousness and really does something with you.
So I obviously enjoy being outside in nature here in Norway. It's just the best way for me to get inspired, but also get grounded in the truest sense of the word, just being somewhere in the forest and feeling this presence of the trees and all these living beings around me, and feeling as a part of it.
TGAM: In every edition of the Issue exhibition we always stumble upon the question of what is generative art and its limits. While computer art still needs human intervention, there will be a moment in time where (similarly to what’s happening with Artificial Intelligence Art), computers will be able to completely generate generative art pieces without any kind of human interaction (besides a prompt). That level of independence opens the door to a multitude of questions, a certain breakthrough about what it means to be an artist. At this point many outcomes question what the traditional art world has been pushing in recent years, and definitely gives all creators a wider level of overall control. What do you think about this new era of widespread generative art into, potentially, so many aspects of our lives?
AR: It's an interesting question you bring up here. I find it highly exciting to think of this future and to think of how the human being together with the machine can become even more human. So this is what fascinates me, that we get closer to the essence of what it means to be a human through using computation as a means of artistic expression.
Artificial intelligence is one example here but there's other things that are more relevant in my own work. Something I've been experimenting with a lot also in earlier years is interactive environments.
I think of our surroundings not just as static environments, but as something that could reflect of our inner states or even become an independent actor that directly influence us and how we behave. I find that a really interesting part of this discussion.
So how will the human-made physical surroundings change in the future? And how will our physical surroundings be different through the means of computation? Can all this lead to more introspection again, to more humanity? This is what to me must be the goal of every artwork: to forward humanity, to forward introspection, to come closer to the very essence of what it means to be a human.
TGAM: We believe that the intersection is already in progress and will move artists to embrace digital tools in their practice, creating new genres that will blur the lines of what we now know about genres. How do you see the future of generative art?
AR: There's a couple of things that I think are worth bringing up and thinking about. The first thing is artificial intelligence. It's just becoming so omnipresent, and the development of it is so quick. I think it's going to be one very central tool in most artists' toolboxes. It's just going to be another tool you're going to use to create artwork and it's going to get better and better. It will get more and more interesting, and you will be able to use it in ways that we can't imagine right now.
The other thing that I see or that I hope will come, is an even closer amalgamation of the physical and the digital. Already today, there are means of translating digital information into physical objects, using a 3D printer, using a CNC milling machine, as I did in this work that I've been talking about, using a pen plotter, all these kinds of things.
But I imagine a future where these two get even closer together and where physical matter can become a living thing, where not only living beings, but also human made physical matter can change its shape, its appearance. We might see sculptures that morph over time. We might see paintings that change color. So all these kinds of ideas about the physical matter being ingrained with more digital qualities will become even more important over time, I think.
And third, I very much hope that we still, as human beings, don't forget about our human values, and also about the music that lies within being human. To me, this is such a dear topic and such a dear medium. Music is such a fundamental way of expressing feelings, and I hope it is going to play a big role in generative art in the future.
I really want to listen to more generated music, and I would really want to listen to more AI generated music. I want to listen to it not only as a thing that is interesting to listen to because of the technology, but I want to listen to it as actual music, as you would listen to an album by a musician you might like that strikes you emotionally. I think this is something that I hope we'll move towards with both generative music and AI music.